Sunday, August 31, 2008

How do you pick the right person for the job?

I've been in the position a few times in my working life when I've had to interview, either alone or as part of a panel, applicants for jobs. Not an easy thing to get right, but after a while, you learn to 'read' the CV/resume, and also that your hunches and instincts are worth listening to.

I won't get to vote on who becomes President and VP of the United States, but I do know who I would vote for. Who, and on what basis I would choose them for the job.

Who? Lets first discuss how I'd evaluate them.

First, actions speak louder than words, have they had similar jobs in the past? How did they do? If this job has more responsibility, can they 'grow into' the job.

Secondly, when you interview them, do they tell you what they think you want to hear, or do they give you the full story, warts and all. Do they have principles? Do they freely admit their past mistakes and shortcomings?

Do they have some new ideas, or at least some guidelines and principles that would steer them through their work?

And lastly, what impression do they leave? What is your gut feeling? (Because that is often your subconscious summation of all of the above - and in my experience, FAR more important than how their resume reads).

So, based on that, how would I vote in the coming US election?

John McCain. Even more so since the choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Obama gives a good speech, is good at telling an audience what it wants to hear, but his track record shows no experience that indicates he is ready for the job he has applied for.

More to come.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Visitor to Sydney - USS John S McCain

Interesting visitor to Sydney - the USS John S McCain. Shares a name with the current GOP candidate for the US Presidency, but is in fact named after his father and grandfather - both career US Navy officers.

The visit commemorated the US 'Great White Fleet' Visit 100 years ago;
" mark the 100th anniversary of the Great White Fleet - the US Navy's first voyage around the world.

The original fleet lost 300 sailors to the harbour city the first time round, when they jumped ship to stay put in the relatively new nation of Australia.

The armada of 16 US battleships and 14,000 men was sent around the globe by former US president Theodore Roosevelt between December 16, 1907 until February 22, 1909..."

[SMH 20Aug08] [Images from 'Wikipedia']

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Music. Albums you love, but can't find again.

Sometimes, rarely, you find a record album that you like the whole of - not just a few tracks.

This was one of them for me. I have 'Bombs away Dream Babies' on LP - plastic. But do think I can find it on CD?

This is the best known track from the album. If the backing sounds familiar, that's Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac in support.

Sadly, John died earlier this year. His friend posted a tribute here. A great musical talent gone, but oh, what a body of work he leaves!


P3s. Courtesy Alex

Some more great aircraft photography from Alex.
In this shot, Alex has captured the final stages of gear retraction.
Another fine shot. Of particular interest for me, because these aircraft, (P3 Orions) are what I worked on while in the RAAF. 11 Squadron (P3Bs) and 492 Squadron - which was the maintenance squadron of 92 Wing - that wing then consisting of 492 Sqn, 10 Sqn (P3Cs), and 11 Sqn (Bs). These days it's all Cs, but when I first joined, 10 Sqn still had Neppys - P2V Neptunes.

An interesting story on Neptunes from Wikipedia on the 'Truculent Turtle';
"...Loaded with fuel in extra tanks fitted in practically every spare space in the aircraft, the Turtle set out from Perth, Australia to the United States. With time, the aircraft has come to be called "Truculent Turtle" but, in fact, its nickname was simply "The Turtle"; which was painted on the aircraft's nose (along with a cartoon of a turtle smoking a pipe pedaling a device attached to a propeller). With a crew of four (and a nine-month-old gray kangaroo, a gift from Australia for the Washington, D.C zoo) the plane set off on September 9, 1946, with a RATO rocket-assisted takeoff. Two and a half days later, the Turtle touched down in Columbus, Ohio, 11,236.6 miles (18,083.6 km) from its starting point. It was the longest unrefuelled flight made to that point—4,000 miles (6,400 km) longer than the USAF's B-29 Superfortress record. This would stand as the absolute unrefueled distance record until 1962 (beaten by a USAF B-52 Stratofortress), and would remain as a piston-engined record until 1986 when Dick Rutan's Voyager would break it in the process of circumnavigating the globe...".

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympics. Over for another 4 years.

Well, the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics is this evening (their timezone is 2 hours behind us). Our little family is having Chinese take-away in salute.

China put (I've heard) $40 billion USDs into these games. London apparently has a budget less than half that. Sydney's final budget in 2000 was substantially less even than that, made a small profit, and the state of NSW got some new, 1st class sporting venues which we still use. (Melbourne still has the MCG - upgraded for the 1956 Olympics). China's venues are apparently use-once facilities. I have to note that 40 billion is a pretty high PR bill - because it seems that's what it was.

Fine things were expected, promised even as a result of Beijing hosting the Olympics. Improvements in observance of human rights, more openness, a less autocratic state. From what I see, that didn't happen. China ran 'business as usual' as a totalitarian state.

The media had a chance to measure China against those expectations. They didn't. A chance to soften China's hard hand was lost.

Having said that, Australia did quite well though. By weighted measure according to some, best. More on our athlete's accomplishments here.

Sadly, the Olympics these days is less about just competing, and 'the glory of sport', and more about nationalism. That arguably has it's good and bad side (better countries do battle on the sports fields than the battlefield for national kudos methinks). Biased I unarguably am, but to me, the Sydney Olympics were a friendlier, more sports orientated event rather than a political statement. Others can make a more objective call on that, and I'm sure some shall.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

James Cook, and his voyage(s) of discovery.

Sometimes, often even, the episodes of history read better than any book of fiction. One such figure, and his adventures, life and achievements illustrate that just so well.

The figure is James Cook.

A man of humble origins, he advanced in that most class-conscious of societies - 18th century England, by merit.

His story crosses in to another fascinating story - that of the development of the Marine Chronometer (one day I'll get me a Hamilton 21!);
"...On his second voyage Cook used the K1 chronometer made by Larcum Kendall, which was the shape of a large pocket watch, 13 cm (5 inches) in diameter. It was a copy of the H4 clock made by John Harrison, which proved to be the first to keep accurate time at sea ..."
(from the Wikipedia article on James Cook).
This piece might just as well have been written with an image of James Cook in mind;

"From their tiny kingdom lying off the northern shores of Europe the Anglo-Saxon people went out over the world taking their laws, their method of government, and their language with them. They built their colonies in North America, setting out their farms in the wide plains and green valleys of the New World. They peopled Australia and New Zealand. They went into Africa and Asia - governing many different people to whom they taught their language and their law. They planted parliaments in many lands, believing that representational government, and government by consultation and consent were unarguably and self-evidently the best. Some of those parliaments have thrived and some have changed into institutions far different from that at Westminster.

For three hundred years or more they dominated the oceans of the globe and for a brief hundred and fifty years they dominated the world itself. As Rome had dreamed of a world of free citizens, with people of many lands sharing a common law and a common loyalty, so did they dream, and briefly believed the vision was reality. The fashion now is to deride the dream and mock the dreamers of it. Yet the conception was not idle, nor completely unfulfilled. Through it, millions of folk around the world who are not kin to the Anglo-Saxon people have democracy as their ideal and the rule of law as their acknowledged aim.

The Anglo-Saxon people in their own kingdom, their blood and traditions enriched by their neighbours - the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish - have given much to the world, perhaps more than the world now cares to acknowledge. The same folk, enriched by the adventurous and the poor, by the exiled defenders of lost causes, by the dispossesed and the persecuted, who thronged to them from all the countries of Europe, have built a younger and vigorous land in the new world.

Greece had great gifts to offer, but left to the Romans the task of disseminating those gifts throughout the civilised world. The Anglo-Saxon folk have been their own messengers. Rome built the long roads along which Hellenistic thought travelled to Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain and the Yorkshire moors. The Anglo-Saxons built their own ships and their own roads by which were transmitted their ideas of government by consent, of freedom to worship God in any way a man pleases, and of a body of law which binds all men - including Kings and lawmakers. For they have possessed through succeeding ages not only these basic ideas on how society should be organised, but also a great restlessness - the knowledge that the sea is a highway and not a barrier, and the belief that a man may make a home wherever a ship can carry him. A man can exercise his skills anywhere - can rear sheep or raise cattle even though midsummers day blazes in December, can fell a tropic thorn tree as well as a northern oak, and can drive a plough in a vast field many thousand miles westward of his former and smaller farm.

Where did the Anglo-Saxon people obtain these qualities? Their impatience with authority, their obstinacy in defeat, their insistence upon old and inalienable rights, their urge to build new homesteads and new countries overseas - are all these things inherited, and reinforced by a process of natural selection? What were the different ethnic components that made up the whole people, and what were the main events that bought together the many different folk who went to their making..."

From: 'The Origins of the English People' Author: Beram Saklatvala [publisher, The History Book Club].


In Praise of the Volley.

Sports shoes. 'Runners'. There's your Reeboks, New Balance, Fila's, Adidas. All excellent shoes, usually expensive.

And then there's Dunlop's Volleys.

Usually a around 20 bucks-and-a-bit a pair or so at BigW, and something of an Aussie icon.

They've been around since 1939, sold 26 million pairs (mostly in Australia only, and they have a loyal, even cult following. They are so 'Exceptionally Average' that they're Cool. (And then there's also - KT-26s!)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Another Friday Fat Jet (from Alex).

Courtesy of Alex's fine photograhy.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Funding our old age.

A workmate put me on to this based on a reference in a newsletter he receives (Thanks Mark).

People the world over are living longer (places like Zimbabwe and Nth Korea excepted). Supporting those people in their old age is a different matter. In olden times, not many lived to be 'old', and in the third world, large families were/are common in part as a support mechanism for the older generation. But as mentioned here, things are changing. The world generally is tending to smaller families, and people are living far longer.

It seems there are 3 options to support the old; 1) expect the next generations to support you, 2) expect government to support you, or 3) put enough aside to support yourself. Option 3 seems to be the most 'moral' course to me, if you can.

Which is where this study becomes of interest; ['Global Aging and the Sustainability of Public Pension Systems', Capretta, 'Center for Strategic & International Studies']. Subtitled 'An Assessment of Reform Efforts in Twelve Developed Countries'.

Like most Aussies, I (and wife and daughter have their own 'super' accounts - it's an individual thing), have a 'Superannuation' account/portfolio (which has taken a battering due to stock market fluctuations of late), the idea being to provide for ourselves when we retire from the workforce. Australia gets good marks in the report. Of interest, Switzerland wasn't studied, though I would be surprised if the Swiss don't have it well worked out - it'd be out of character if they didn't. In the introduction it says;
"...Despite recent reforms, public benefit systems in most developed countries remain fiscally unsustainable—and even where long-term costs have been controlled, serious concerns remain. The United Kingdom, having stabilized future pension spending as a share of GDP, is now worried that it has done so at the risk of impoverishing the future elderly. As for the United States, reform appears to be on indefinite hold. America enjoys many advantages in confronting the age wave, from its relatively youthful demographics to its large funded private pension system. Yet its failure to engage entitlement reform could in the end leave it no better
off than many European countries facing far larger demographic challenges...".
Dry reading, some may say, but it'll be interesting for those who like to think forward to the future. The CSIS site itself is interesting as a think-tank on it's own.

[Update 9Aug08] Thought it might be worth adding some extracts and comments on the various economies referenced. (Quotes from here).

USA: "...despite its many advantages, a deeply polarized political environment and widely divergent visions for reform have made achieving consensus difficult—and left the United States facing a major long-term cost crisis...".

UK: "...the interaction of public pensions with the voluntary “contracted out” employer and personal pensions is complex and has come under heavy criticism for leaving a growing number of British workers with uncertain retirement income prospects...".

Sweden: "...a new system of “notional defined contribution” accounts supplemented by mandatory funded individual retirement accounts, leaves Sweden better positioned to confront the age wave than most European countries...".

Spain: "...When it comes to reform of its public pension system, Spain seems to be in a state of collective denial. With a fertility rate of just 1.2, among the lowest in Europe, it faces a future of extreme demographic aging and soaring retirement costs. Yet Spain continues to defer reform...".

Netherlands: "...the Dutch pension system remains unsustainable. With over two-thirds of men (and over four-fifths of women) exiting the workforce by age 60, early retirement is still the norm. The basic AOW public pension system, moreover, remains entirely unreformed...".

Japan: "...Japan is now the world’s oldest society— [old as in average age of the population] and a window into the near future for the rest of the developed world...".

Italy: "...Italy not only has one of Europe’s fastest aging populations, but one of its most expensive public pension systems as well. The combination of generous benefits, powerful trade unions, and unstable governing coalitions has made reform perilous for Italian political leaders..".

Germany: "...Germany’s public pension system is Europe’s oldest and one of its most generous..., ...there is growing resentment among younger Germans, who feel that they are being asked to pay for generous benefits for their elders that they themselves cannot hope to receive..., ...To avoid a future crisis, Germany must somehow jump start its new funded pension system...".

France: "...The French have long supported an expansive public sector, and France’s public pension system is indeed generous and costly..., ...the French are perhaps most attached to generous pay-as-you-go pensions, which they view as the cornerstone of solidarite sociale—and the most hostile to funded alternatives, which they associate with “Anglo-Saxon” capitalism..., ...Whether France can make sufficiently bold reforms, however, is open to question. At some point, the reality of scaled-back pension promises will collide with the French expectation of an expansive welfare state, with unknown political consequences...".

Canada: "...Canada’s public pension system is relatively modest by international standards, its cost is projected to rise rapidly over the next few decades as Canada’s unusually large postwar Baby Boom generation retires..., An interesting illustration - with probably global significance is a "...televised Parliament Hill steps confrontation between Mulroney and Solange Denis, an outraged near-retiree". (Lesson; politicians hurt the electorate's 'hip-pocket nerve' on such issues at their severe peril - best example I've seen).

Belgium: "...Belgium has been more reluctant than most European countries to pursue reform of its public pension system—and indeed, of its welfare state in general. With a large pay-as-you-go public pension system, the lowest effective retirement ages in Western Europe, and virtually no funded private pension savings, there is much reform that could occur..., ...Sooner or later, Belgium’s political leaders will be forced to face what nearly every other
European country is facing: significant reform of unsustainable public pension promises...".

Australia: "...Australian political leaders have demonstrated far-sighted initiative in preparing for population aging. With the superannuation guarantee, Australia has a near universal, fully funded, privately administered, and, as of 2005, individually controlled and portable, retirement savings program.
Today, over 90 percent of workers have superannuation coverage, and superannuation assets are growing rapidly...".

According to the Introduction; "...Australia, [is] the world reform leader...", " country, with the possible exception of Australia, can legitimately claim to have solved its old-age support problem...".

So there you have it. I'm now over 50. I could retire - early - at 55, which would mean a frugal retirement. Or, there is more to draw from each year that I leave my 'super' to grow. I'm not sure I want to drop out of the workforce early anyway. Work is about more than just the money. For many of us - it's doing something you feel is worthwhile. It's a social and friendship network, an external discipline to structure life around.
One thing I will agree with though, the thoughts of those German youths. I've paid a lot of tax for ~35 years, ~25% of which went to social security. If your taxes have paid for the pensions of others preceeding you, then ergo, you have some claim on some sort of quid pro quo in return.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Some Ocker Aussie clips.

YouTube lets you hear, and see a broad range of music, amongst other things.

They don't come much more Ocker Aussie than these 2 singers (Slim Dusty and John Williamson).

Have a listen to; 'Pub with no beer', 'Lights on the Hill', and 'Waltzing Matilda' (live at the VFL Grand Final with 100,000 spectators - the MCG was built for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics BTW).

And from John; 'Galleries of Pink Galahs', and 'True Blue'.

(And for Peter, some jazz, I thought he might like some James Morrison - On trumpet and piano).

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Happy Birthday Switzerland!

(Image souced from

An important day has passed, and I missed it! As covered by Peter here, August the 1st is Switzerland's National Day (like Jan 26th for Australia, or July 4th for the USA).

Switzerland has a fascinating history, and a noble one. The Swiss have never been expansionists like the French under Napoleon, or the Germans (with the responsibility for 2 world wars and the holocaust in their past), nor have they tried to force an ideology on the world, like Russia/the USSR, and arguably China did/do. Instead, Switzerland has been an "oasis of peace and prosperity" especially during the last 2 'world wars' and most of her history.

They may not have the resounding words of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, but "Actions speak louder than words" and the Swiss backed their love of freedom and independence with action, not least by their enviable model, that example of the potent tool for maintaining a country's sovereignty and freedom - the militia based defence, but also with a steadfast commitment to what I will call "the participatory democracy". The Swiss entrust and empower their citizenry in a way that leads the world, and which the rulers of countries like China, Zimbabwe, and most middle eastern countries (with the notable exception of Israel) would never countenance.

So, a hearty "Happy Birthday" to Switzerland.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

The Great (Fire)Wall of China.

Seems (why am I not surprised) that the Beijing games is off to a censored start.

After the IOC giving the impression that journalists in Beijing would be given full internet access and free reign to report, it isn't happening like that at all.

Censorship and restrictions
are the way it will be it seems (although there has been some relaxation after world outcry).

China thinks of the Olympics as a huge PR exercise.

I hope I'm wrong, but I think the world may get a glimpse of what China is really like, and may not necessarily like a lot of what that glimpse suggests.

Makes me even prouder of what Sydney was like as an Olympic host city.

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This Friday's Fat Jet.

Courtesy Alex.